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What is a Medium Security Prison?

A medium security prison, also known as a medium custody prison, is a type of correctional facility that houses incarcerated individuals who are deemed to pose a moderate risk to public safety if they were to escape. Medium security prisons have more restrictions than minimum security prisons, but not as many as maximum security prisons.

Overview of Medium Security Prisons

Medium security prisons are designed to hold prisoners who have been convicted of mid-level crimes that are serious but not violent or extreme. They house a large portion of the overall prison population. Here are some key characteristics of medium security prisons:

  • Security Level – Medium security prisons have more staff, gates, fences, cameras and other security measures than minimum security prisons, but less than maximum ones. The environment balances security with rehabilitation.
  • Type of Inmates – Inmates in these facilities may include those convicted of crimes like fraud, non-violent drug offenses, minor assault, burglary, or driving violations. Many have shorter sentences.
  • Flight Risk – Inmates are deemed a moderate flight risk. They have more privileges than maximum security but fewer than minimum security prisons.
  • Programming – Medium security prisons offer many rehabilitation programs like counseling, education, job training, and substance abuse treatment. The goal is to help prisoners prepare for potential re-entry into society.
  • Location – Many are located in rural areas or suburban communities. Some are standalone facilities and others are part of larger prison complexes.

Perimeter Security and Control

The perimeter security features and inmate supervision/control methods at medium security prisons land between minimum and maximum ones. Here are some standard elements:

  • Fencing – Tall chain link, razor wire, or electric fencing surrounds the prison perimeter. It is extensively monitored by cameras and guards.
  • Guard Posts – Along the fence and throughout the grounds, guard posts provide 24/7 surveillance. Guards have a clear view of inmate movements.
  • Cell Doors – Doors may be left open during the day for inmate freedom of movement. However, cells are locked at night.
  • Headcounts – Regular scheduled headcounts of inmates help ensure no one is missing or has escaped.
  • Searches – Random and scheduled searches of inmates’ cells and persons help control contraband.
  • Recreation – Inmates have daily access to exercise yards but they are enclosed and controlled spaces. Recreation is a privilege that can be taken away.
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Facilities and Conditions

The daily life of an inmate in a medium security prison has more privileges and comforts than maximum security, but less freedom than minimum security. Here are some general living conditions:

  • Housing Units – Inmates are housed in open dormitories, shared cells, or a combination. The units house up to several hundred inmates together.
  • Beds – Inmates have a regular bed, often a bunk bed shared with a cellmate. Maximum security prisons have slab beds bolted to the wall or floor.
  • Possessions – Inmates are allowed some personal items like photos, books, and approved electronics. Maximum security limits possessions severely.
  • Uniforms – Inmates usually wear a prison uniform but have more clothing options than maximum security prisons.
  • Movement – During specific times, inmates can move freely to access facilities like the cafeteria, library, or recreation yard. Movement is restricted at other times.
  • Jobs – Many medium security prisons have work programs. Inmates can apply for jobs like kitchen duty, janitorial, landscaping, etc. These provide skills and income.

Privileges and Restrictions

Inmates in medium security prisons have privileges that help improve quality of life. However, restrictions ensure control and security. Typical privileges and restrictions include:


  • Contact Visitations – Inmates can visit with approved family/friends for a designated time period in a visitation room.
  • Commissary – Inmates can purchase approved items like food, hygiene products, electronics using money from their inmate account.
  • Television – Televisions are allowed in dayrooms and controlled recreation times. Content is restricted.
  • Classes – Inmates can take academic, vocational or life skills classes to further education.
  • Library – Facilities have libraries where inmates can check out books, magazines, and other materials.


  • Curfews – Strict schedules dictate when inmates must return to their housing units and cells each day.
  • Contraband – Items that pose security risks are banned, including weapons, cell phones, tobacco, and non-approved electronics.
  • Searches – Random pat downs and cell shake downs search for contraband.
  • Counts – Daily inmate counts at scheduled times are mandatory. Inmates must cooperate.
  • Supervision – All inmate movement and activities are monitored by staff. Inmates must follow staff direction at all times.

Services and Programs

A key aim of medium security prisons is rehabilitation through educational and therapeutic programming. Many services are offered to inmates, including:

  • Counseling & Therapy – Individual counseling, group therapy, drug counseling, anger management, etc.
  • Education – Primary, secondary and post-secondary academic programs leading to a GED or degree. Self-study programs are also available.
  • Vocation Training – Job skills training in trades like carpentry, plumbing, computer technology, food service and more.
  • Work Opportunities – Inmates can apply for prison jobs, like custodial, laundry, food service, clerical work, etc. These provide job skills and income.
  • Chaplain Services – Access to religious services, spiritual counseling and study groups.
  • Recreation – Gym equipment, sports leagues, game rooms, TV and scheduled outdoor time provides physical and mental outlets.
  • Transitional Services – Pre-release programs help inmates re-integrate into society through counseling, parole planning, job placement assistance, money management training, and more.
  • Health Care – Medical, dental and mental health services are available. Care is provided by doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and other professionals.
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Examples of Medium Security Prisons

Medium security prisons can vary somewhat in their specific policies and facilities. Here are some examples in the United States:

  • FCI Fort Dix – A Federal medium security facility in New Jersey housing over 3,000 male offenders.
  • Riverbend Correctional Facility – A private medium security prison in Tennessee operating under contract.
  • Lorain Correctional Institution – A medium security Ohio state men’s prison with large dormitory housing units.
  • New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility – This prison houses female inmates from minimum to medium security levels.
  • Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution – A medium security prison located in Pendleton, Oregon with work programs and skills training.
  • Airway Heights Corrections Center – A medium custody prison in Washington state with chemical dependency programs.

Transitioning from Medium to Minimum Security

Well-behaved inmates serving out longer sentences may transition from medium to minimum security prisons based on:

  • Risk Level – The inmate is deemed low-risk for violence or escape based on their record.
  • Remaining Sentence – inmates with a year or more left may transfer to get acclimated and prepare for re-entry.
  • Program Participation – Inmates who show progress in programs demonstrate motivation for reform.
  • Institutional Behavior – Good behavior, following rules, no infractions, and respectfulness may qualify transfer.
  • Health Issues – Medical or mental health needs easier to manage in minimum security.

The transfer process involves thorough screening by classification committees and approval by the warden. An inmate’s eligibility can change over time, so periodic reviews occur. Transfers reward progress and begin re-entry.

FAQ About Medium Security Prisons

How do male and female medium security prisons differ?

The main differences are:

  • Female prisons are generally smaller with lower inmate populations.
  • Facilities, programs and services are designed for women’s unique needs, like health care.
  • Most female prisons don’t have high walls or guard towers, relying more on staff supervision.
  • Female prisons allow for more free movement and inmate self-governance.
  • Visitation policies are more flexible to accommodate women’s roles as mothers.
  • Vocational programs prepare women for traditionally female jobs like office work, cosmetology, and hospitality.

What are inmate counts?

Inmate counts are roll calls conducted at scheduled intervals where every inmate must report to a designated area to be counted by staff. The key facts are:

  • Ensure no one is missing or has escaped undetected.
  • Occur before and after inmates leave for activities like meals or work.
  • Often conducted at night when inmates are locked in cells.
  • Inmates must fully cooperate, stop movement, and stay still.
  • Counts are tracked closely and any discrepancies are investigated immediately.
  • Missing inmates face disciplinary action or criminal escape charges.
  • Accurate counts are critical for the security and good order of any prison.
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Can inmates earn time off their sentences in medium security?

Yes, there are a few ways medium security inmates can earn reduced sentences, including:

  • Good Behavior – Most states allow reduced time for meeting good behavior criteria. This can range from a few days to months off per year.
  • Work Credits – Working an inmate job regularly can earn sentence credits. The amount varies.
  • Program Credits – Active participation in rehabilitation programs may qualify for credit.
  • Minimum Custody Credits – Transferring to lower security level can earn substantial credits.
  • Earned Time – This credit is given for progress made in skills training, education, counseling, and more.

However, credits are notautomatic. They require sustained good conduct, program engagement, and staff approval. Major infractions can result in credit loss.

What are the most common infractions inmates commit?

The most frequently occurring inmate offenses reported in medium security prisons are:

  • Possession of contraband – Drugs, weapons, cell phones, etc.
  • Disobeying orders – Ignoring or resisting staff direction.
  • Minor assault – Altercations with other inmates without serious injury.
  • Being out of place – Being in an unauthorized area or leaving assignment.
  • Theft – Taking items that belong to others or the facility.
  • Disrupting operations – Any act that interferes with institutional operations.
  • Inappropriate relationships – Overly personal interactions between inmates or with staff.
  • Abusing privileges – Violating rules on things like recreation time, TV use, library access, etc.

Disciplinary action depends on the severity. It can range from restriction of privileges up to extended lockdown time.

Are rehabilitation programs mandatory for inmates?

Participation in prison rehabilitation programs is voluntary in most cases. However, there are some exceptions:

  • Newly admitted inmates may be required to complete orientation programming on prison rules, resources, etc.
  • Participation may be made mandatory as part of sentencing terms or parole stipulations.
  • Inmates with identified treatment needs like substance abuse may have required programming.
  • Work assignments can be mandatory but inmates choose from available openings.
  • Lifers and long-term inmates may be required to have regular program involvement to qualify for privileges.
  • Disciplinary measures sometimes include mandatory counseling or education programs.

While voluntary, incentives like time credits encourage participation. Staff also provide encouragement.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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